Your local paper's comics page is usually an elephant graveyard of half-realized punchlines and the inchoate mutterings of cartoonists who realized it's impossible to be funny 365 days a year, for decades on end. Therefore, you end up with entire weeks of Hi and Lois communicating solely through hieroglyphics and Odie staring at a noose.
It's even worse for dramatic comics. Given that cartoonists must parcel out an adventure two panels daily, they cannot risk having the reader lose track of the story. This is why the Phantom ends up in month-long car chases and the immortal Mary Worth can only be slain by a scimitar dipped in lamb's blood.
But every now and again, there is a comic that bucks this inanity and decompression and delivers the hot fucking thrills the 38 of you who assiduously read the comics page deserve. I am referring to this April's arc in Mark Trail, wherein our square-jawed environmentalist hero goes John Rambo on marijuana farmers.
There's a couple things inherently hilarious about fusty old Mark Trail joining the war on drugs. First off, it's more than a bit weird to see this 66-year-old slice of red-blooded Americana fight crazed reefer farmers. It's like seeing Little Orphan Annie bust a meth lab. Furthermore, this particular plot point seems a half-century too late. I hope next month Mark Trail busts a cabal of jazz musicians toodling around his forest. Or perhaps Eugene V. Debs, whistling on the Sabbath. Either or!
But the main reason this particular arc is so damn magical is because Mark Trail is the absolute worst medium to tell a taut crime story. This goes back to artist Jack Elrod's tendency to obfuscate the action with close-ups of animals.
So when Ranger Tom Martin is kidnapped by pot farmers, the reader is treated to consistent photo-bombs by deciduous fauna. If there is ever a Mark Trail movie, every other frame will be interrupted by a nosy muskrat or nutria or marmoset. And the below strips are just the ones that ran during April. Mark Trail's wedding pictures likely occurred during a joint locust swarm/salmon migration.
Finally, we have this fight scene, which has been unfolding since last Wednesday. After some chilling foreshadowing during his Sunday lesson about spider facts ("In a biological system in which two species interact, one a predator and one its prey, there are natural checks and balances!") Mark and his dog Andy (verbatim from Wikipedia: "Mark's faithful Saint Bernard. Neutered 2000.") enforce frontier justice on the pot dealers.
Today's strip ended with Andy frozen in mid-air, waiting to devour that cannabis villain's aorta. I haven't been this excited since the mid-1990s, when the Phantom defused a ticking nuke over the course of 64 breakfasts.
Via Oregon Live. Hat tip to Tom Chung, who noted to me, "Do you see how proportionately louder he yells at the dog? Mark Trail is an angry motherfucker."